After outside media reports started circulating online about the Quebec government investing $3.3 million for a hotel project in Kahnawake, the reaction by some in the community was swift and hostile.
Posts on social media included threats of violence against the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) and specifically grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer.
However, not many details were available in media reports on Friday when minister of Indigenous Affairs Ian Lafrenière made the announcement at the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec.
The project actually had nothing to do with the MCK, and, in fact, the funding was granted to a private citizen from the community – Peter Paul – who applied through Quebec’s Aboriginal Initiatives Fund (AIF) for a hotel to be built on private land on Route 207.
“Because of the way the message was conveyed, it made it sound like if it’s Kahnawake, it has got to be MCK,” said Sky-Deer, who was a panellist at the conference.
“And none of the media that was present came to interview me or asked any questions, so they just ran with the story.”
The grand chief believes that due to the incomplete media reports, many Kahnawa’kehró:non were left with questions and assumptions about the hotel project and MCK’s involvement.
Many posts also criticized the funding of a hotel project when the community is currently dealing with a housing crisis.
“There were all these comments on social media all weekend because people didn’t understand the project. And we didn’t react quickly enough to try to rectify or correct the information,” she said.
The grand chief explained that she received a request from K103.7 to call in and do a live interview, but because she was engaged with so many people at the conference at the time, she found out it was too late.
“There were certain posts on social media, and Facebook specifically, where community members were saying that they were going to choose violence.
“To the point where somebody wrote that 7,000 people would never approve something like this and that people would get killed and they would applaud it. As a matter of fact, that they will tie my noose,” said the grand chief.
The grand chief specified, however, that she was never directly threatened or contacted.
“But still, people taking it to that degree when they are making assumptions about a project and not really understanding the dynamics of things.”
She said that the MCK is always supportive of private individuals applying for funding, and that is what happened in this circumstance.
“I think that it is important that I highlight the fact that sometimes outside media doesn’t always report fairly or accurately because they don’t really understand the dynamics of our community,” said Sky-Deer.
She said that she has become more wary of talking to outside media because of situations like this one and a recent report by the CBC regarding the Father Lajoie matter.
“We were talking about it in the context of when there are allegations. I made a comment about how most times people are innocent until proven guilty. But they took that one sentence and made it appear like I was saying it about this situation,” she said.
“It made me look very unsympathetic towards the community and survivors or people who were in that predicament, and it did a lot of damage.”
The grand chief said that she immediately contacted CBC and told them that the reporting was horrible and out of context. She said that she even contemplated suing the publicly funded media organization.
“I just have to ask that the community give myself and the MCK a little more credit. We are people from this community. We are not trying to sell out the town or do anything ridiculous, contrary to what people think,” said Sky-Deer.
“This is community governance, and we are trying to do everything to the best of our ability to try and take care of our people.”